The Gophers’ hopes of an at-large NCAA bid took a big hit over the weekend.
No. 17 Minnesota entered the weekend on the tournament bubble and defeated Michigan State 4-2 on the road Friday night. The Spartans roared back with a 5-0 victory on Saturday to earn a split.
Despite the loss, the Gophers left East Lansing, Mich., with a bye secured for the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
“[Friday] we got bounces. I don’t know if we were totally deserving of winning last night, but we found a way to win [Friday], and we didn’t find a way to win [Saturday],” junior captain Justin Kloos said to reporters after Saturday’s game. “That’s just the bottom line.”
Michigan State (10-21-3, 6-11-1-0 Big Ten) took a 1-0 lead 46 seconds into the game Saturday.
The Spartans increased their lead to 3-0 early in the second period, which caused Gophers head coach Don Lucia to pull freshman goaltender Eric Schierhorn from the game.
Freshman Brock Kautz replaced Schierhorn in his college debut. He allowed two more goals on 10 shots.
“Eric wasn’t quite as sharp as he normally is,” Lucia told reporters after Saturday’s game. “First shot goes in, and then that third [goal] he was on his knees, and it went over his shoulder. We thought he’d have that one.”
The Gophers (18-15, 13-5 Big Ten) were shut out for the third time this season and the first time since Oct. 17.
Minnesota had opportunities to score on the power play but went 0-5 on Saturday.
At one point, the team had a five-minute power play but generated only two shots on goal.
“Our power play was not very good. It hasn’t been good in a while,” Lucia told reporters after Saturday’s game. “I can’t say there was a phase of our game [that was] where we needed [it] to be.”
The Gophers played like a different team on Friday, with sophomore defenseman Jack Glover tallying his first career multi-goal game in a 4-2 victory.
Minnesota allowed an early Michigan State goal, but Glover tied the game 1-1 in the first period and added an empty-net goal late in the third.
“[It] was a little bit unexpected, honestly,” Glover told reporters after Friday’s game. “Couple lucky bounces, couple good plays by the guys around me. … It was a good game for us all around.”
The two teams were tied 2-2 more than halfway through the third period, when freshman forward Tommy Novak scored the game-winning goal.
“In March now we’re trying to get every point that we can,” Novak said to reporters after Saturday’s game. “[It’s] a crucial point in the season. Obviously, we want to win the conference and be hot coming into the playoffs, so [in] every game we’re looking to win all three points right now.”
The Gophers cannot finish lower than second in the Big Ten standings after the split this weekend. The team will enter its last regular season series against Wisconsin with a four-point lead on No. 6 Michigan for first.